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Transcript 21030

Address at Reception given by the President and Chief Mrs Stella Obasanjo, State House, Nigeria

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 04/12/2003

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 21030

Your Excellency President Obasanjo, [tape break] ladies and gentlemen. First may I thank you Mr President for your very gracious invitation for Janette and for me to visit officially Nigeria as part of my attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. I recalled very well your visit to Canberra in February of last year and of course your very valuable participation in the CHOGM meeting held at Coolum at the beginning of last year.

It is an honour for me to be back in Abuja and to have had the opportunity a short while ago of discussing issues that were raised during our talks in Canberra last year and are very important to the bilateral relationship between our two countries. We are very different countries in so many ways, Nigeria's population is in the order of 140 million, Australia's population this very week has reached 20 million. Fifty per cent of your population is under the age of 20, so many of the challenges which you have are relevant to the great youthfulness of your population. Yet we are, despite our differences, we are bound together by a common set of values and those values are important to the Commonwealth whose heads of government gather here in Abuja for our bi-annual meeting.

But the most important thing I wish to say to you Mr President is, in your own capital, in your own nation, to congratulate you personally in your enormous contribution to the restoration of democracy in Nigeria. In the process you underwent very great personal stress and hardship, many of us are lucky to have lived in democratic circumstances all of our lives, and although we strive never to take it for granted, we simply don't have to endure the physical difficulty, deprivation of liberty and hardship that is the lot of those who have to struggle to achieve a restoration of democracy and your own personal experience is an inspiration to others who would work to restore and maintain democracy in their own countries.

Those democratic values that we hold in common and which underpin the institution of the Commonwealth we will remind ourselves of over coming days. I'm delighted that our respective parliaments, that is the parliaments of Nigeria and Australia, have already established very close ties, some Australian Members of Parliament travelled to Nigeria last year and there is discussion of a reciprocal visit by Nigerian Members of Parliament to Australian some time next year.

I share your enthusiasm for the joint endeavours that may emerge in relation to mineral and resource development. We have much in common, Australia has much sophisticated expertise in this area and the opportunities that are before us are very significant indeed.

Tomorrow I will pass to you the responsibilities of Chairman-in-Office of the Commonwealth, a position created for the first time at the Coolum meeting and while it carries no authority beyond what it mandated to it by the members of the Commonwealth, it is a valuable focal point for dealing with Commonwealth issues between meetings of the Heads of Government. Our Commonwealth family is very diverse, it has an extraordinary variety of cultures, of religions, of ethnicities, the member countries come from both hemispheres and from the four corners of the globe. It does not have a formal constitutional structure, but it does have the most important international cement of all, and that is common values and a common history of institutions which have always worked to promote the freedom and liberty of individuals.

The hosting of this conference here in Nigeria is a testament to the high standing of Nigeria, not only in Africa but very importantly throughout the entire Commonwealth. You sir are a leader of stature, a leader of courage, a person who has had to fight during his political life in a very literal sense for the things in which he believes. And for that end out of great respect for your country may I say that Janette and I and all the other Australians who've come with me are very very pleased indeed to be here with you.

Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to joint me in a toast, firstly to the President and the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and also to the friendship of the people of Nigeria and the people of Australia.

[ends]

Transcript 21030